DOMINIC SANDBROOK: Meghan the ‘only child’ — and what her ‘truth’ tells us about the triumph of feeling over fact
One day in the middle of the 18th century, one of the greatest of all Englishmen, the writer Dr Samuel Johnson, was strolling in a churchyard with his friend James Boswell.
As they walked, they were discussing a fashionable theory of the age, which held that there was no such thing as objective, material reality. Instead, there were only individual people’s subjective perceptions, which meant you could never be entirely certain whether something existed or not.
The theory was obviously untrue, said Boswell, since we all know that other things exist. But, he added, it was ‘impossible to refute it’.
At that, Johnson drew back his foot and ‘with mighty force’ kicked it against a large stone standing nearby. ‘I refute it thus,’ he said gruffly.
Most of us, I imagine, know exactly what Johnson meant. When you’ve kicked a stone, you know it’s there. Reality exists, facts are facts and there is such a thing as concrete, objective truth. Two plus two is four, not five, and only a fool would deny it.
Meghan Markle is being sued for defamation by her own half-sister Samantha, after the Duchess of Sussex claimed in an interview that she ‘grew up as an only child’
Only a fool . . . or Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. For in a peculiar new twist in the risible soap opera that is the Meghan And Harry Show, the former Hollywood TV actress has submitted papers to a Florida court arguing that there is not, after all, such a thing as objective truth.
In case you’ve lost track of the latest developments, Meghan is being sued for defamation by her own half-sister Samantha, who was outraged by the Duchess’s claim in her Oprah Winfrey interview that she ‘grew up as an only child’.
According to Samantha, this is simply untrue. And like Dr Johnson kicking the stone, she points to her own existence as proof. Bizarrely, however, Meghan’s lawyers insist that this is not a simple matter of objective truth. The fact that she clearly does have a sister, they claim, is beside the point.
Instead, they say, her claim was a ‘textbook example of a subjective statement about how a person feels about her childhood’. The fact that it was objectively untrue is irrelevant, for what matters is her ‘personal and subjective feeling’ about her ‘own childhood’.
According to Samantha Markle the claim Meghan grew up as only child is simply untrue
Samantha Markle is pictured with her half-sister Meghan Markle at her graduation in 2008
To most of us, including the late Dr Johnson, this might sound like utter gibberish. You’re either an only child or you’re not, whatever your ‘subjective feelings’ might tell you.
Alas, Meghan’s relationship with reality appears to be, on occasion, very different from Dr Johnson’s.
You may, for example, recall her telling Oprah Winfrey that she and Prince Harry were actually married three days before their spectacular wedding, in a back room by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
This turned out to be total nonsense. So was her suggestion implying that her son Archie was cruelly denied a royal title after a family member allegedly asked how dark his skin might be. (Actually, he was never entitled to one anyway.)
If I were being harsh, I might say that such events have shown the Duchess of Sussex to be someone who brazenly says whatever she thinks to win fame and invite sympathy and is perfectly happy to disparage both her own family and her husband’s family in her obsessive pursuit of her own interests.
But let’s be kind, as she and Harry are always instructing us. Perhaps the Duchess simply has a more avant-garde attitude towards objective reality than the rest of us?
During that gruesome Winfrey interview, for example, there was much talk of ‘Meghan’s truth’, as if truth itself were just another a subjective concept. And that, of course, is precisely how she and her fellow progressive enthusiasts often talk of truth and falsehood.
Meghan Markle has denied lying about ‘growing up as an only child’ during her bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, as the Duchess of Sussex faces a defamation lawsuit filed by her estranged half-sister Samantha
For people who consider themselves ‘woke’, objective reality matters far less than subjective opinion. There are no such things as facts; there are only feelings. And even if you come to a debate armed with a vast array of official statistics, none of them can compete with a self-described victim’s ‘lived experience’.
This isn’t just a phenomenon confined to the Left, by the way. Donald Trump’s press secretary once defended his blatant lies, such as his claim about the supposedly unprecedented size of his inauguration crowd, as ‘alternative facts’, as if nothing is really true and every account, however wrong, is equally valid.
But it’s among woke activists that you find the most flagrant indifference to objective reality and the most fervent obsession with subjective feelings.
When the eminent black educationalist Tony Sewell chaired a commission investigating racial and ethnic disparities in Britain, for example, his conclusion — that Britain isn’t institutionally racist — drew torrents of abuse from Left-wing commentators.
Again and again, Sewell’s critics insisted that his pages of tables, charts, statistics and — yes — facts meant nothing beside their ‘lived experience’.
In charities, universities and public sector organisations, this obsession with ‘lived experience’ — especially an experience of supposed victimhood — has assumed demented proportions.
Rachel Dolezal claimed to be of black and Native American descent and became head of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Across the Atlantic, some academics have taken this to truly extraordinary extremes. You may recall the bizarre story of Rachel Dolezal, an art teacher who rose to become head of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the most prestigious black rights organisation in the U.S.
Dolezal claimed to be of black and Native American descent. In fact she was white, since her parents were of German and Czech extraction. But when she was exposed as a fraud, she insisted that the biological facts of her birth and parentage were irrelevant. Her ‘essential essence’, she said, was black. This, in other words, was her ‘truth’.
Then there’s the whole vexed question of what constitutes a woman. You and I might think that fundamental biological reality is all that matters; but just try telling that to the transgender militants who insist that being a woman is a matter of ‘feeling’ rather than fact.
Even our political parties have been infected by this madness, ditching scientific facts for the latest ideological fads. Labour’s Keir Starmer, for example, claims that it’s ‘not right’ to say that only women have a cervix — a ludicrous denial of basic biological reality — and flatly refuses to define what a woman is.
Labour’s Keir Starmer, claims that it’s ‘not right’ to say that only women have a cervix
In Sir Keir’s Britain, then, would men and women, male and female, no longer exist? Or would biological sex be no more real than the blackness of Rachel Dolezal’s skin, or the Duchess of Sussex’s past as an only child?
All of this stuff may sound like infantile gibberish. But it matters.
A world in which Meghan or — to be precise — Meghan’s lawyers can pretend she was an only child is a world in which reality itself becomes an endangered commodity.
If there is no such thing as truth — only my truth, your truth and the Duchess of Sussex’s truth, all equally valid — then how can we stop lies and falsehoods from flourishing?
If everything is subjective, how can we persuade people that the Holocaust really happened or that Vladimir Putin’s war crimes are a matter of verifiable record? And how can we prevent conspiracy theories from taking root and eroding our democracy, if nothing is real and facts will always be trumped by feelings?
But, as so often, I suspect the answer to all this stuff is simply a bracing dose of common sense. A stone is a stone. We all know what a woman is. An only child doesn’t have a sister.
And as for Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — well, I’d better keep my ‘personal and subjective feelings’ to myself.
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